Davis 'pleasantly surprised' with under-18s' impressive start

Under-18 head coach Steve Davis has been ‘pleasantly surprised’ with the start to the season made by his young Wolves side as they prepare for their second outing of the U18 Premier League Cup on Friday.

Having lost just once in all competitions so far this campaign, the under-18s are in fine form ahead of their visit to Manchester United’s AON Training Centre, where they are aiming to maintain their 100 per cent record in this season’s PL Cup, having overcome West Bromwich Albion 5-0 in the opening match, and after coping with plenty of disruption to his plans so far this season, Davis believes the start has been a success.

On a positive start to the season

“It’s been good. I’ve been surprised, pleasantly, because when you go into the start of a season at this age, you’re just trying to implement a certain way of playing and there are certain things you want to get from the group.

“You try and assess the needs of the group, because every year is different, so it’s about assessing the needs of this group and trying to put down daily sessions which were going to cover those needs.

“In fairness, the work that we’ve done has had an impact in a short space of time, so up until now, I would say this season has been successful.”

On working closely with the first-team

“They’ve had a lot of exposure to first-team training this season, which has been great for them. They’ve thoroughly enjoyed that challenge.

“We’ve also had quite a lot of pre-season exposure with the under-23s, which has given them opportunities that they wouldn’t normally have, and they’ve taken those opportunities.

“They’ve been training regularly and playing with the 23s, which has given them the confidence to push on a little bit quicker than we probably imagined.”

On advantages of a small squad

“Because some of our group have been training up with the 23s and the first-team, it has left us with low numbers, but this has allowed the lads to have one-to-one attention.

“That has impacted on selection for the fixtures, because we’ve had to play a system which suits the small amount of players we’ve had available. We’ve also had to borrow a few lads from the under-16s.

“But at this age, you don’t want big squads because it means people aren’t playing regularly, so the lads have got a lot of playing time, which has been a great positive.

“We’re finding solutions around having small squads, at both 23s and 18s, but this has allowed them to get plenty of opportunities, which maybe they wouldn’t have had with a bigger squad.”

On Covid and injury impact

“There’s always going to be someone out with something, and Covid has probably had the biggest impact on numbers for us this season.

“We’ve seemed to always have somebody with Covid, or recovering from Covid, or on a Covid isolation protocol. Sometimes that’s been quite disruptive to them because when they’ve come back, they’ve found it tough to get straight back into the intensity of training and the games. That recovery period after Covid takes quite some time, and can be a set-back for them.

“But we’ve tried our best to overcome those ones, and we’re also seeing players who have missed the first part of the season through injury slowly coming back.”

On players returning from injury and isolation

“‘Tippo’ [Ollie Tipton] will be back soon, Kam [Kandola] has had little niggles, but he’ll hopefully be back in the next week or two. We’ll benefit from them coming back and the 23s will benefit from those two players being available.

“We’ve also got Mason [Rees] coming back, Owen [Farmer] is back and has had a week’s training now, Nathan [Fraser] has picked up a slight injury, but nothing too serious, so he’ll probably be another week, and we’ve also had Justin [Hubner] and Palmi [Arinbjornsson] on international duty.

“But Justin has been training regularly with the 23s, as has Dexter [Lembikisa], because of injuries to Hugo [Bueno] and Lewis [Richards], so he’ll be with them until those players return, but we’re in constant communication with the 23s to make sure players who are moving up and down are getting the correct loads and getting the correct amount of game time.

“We’ve got better with that communication, so we are coping with the injuries and the set-backs of Covid with a small group of players, especially as we try to juggle them between the two groups.”

On international call-ups

“It’s really deserved. They’ve worked hard, they’ve been in and around the squads, and I’m always delighted when they get the game time.

“When you’re in the squad, travelling around and not playing, it’s still great, but there’s nothing like actually making an appearance and getting a cap.

“I’m delighted for Palmi to be involved in all three matches for Iceland under-19s this week, and he flies back in today and will train tomorrow ready for the match on Friday. I’ve been told by Tom Turner, our new goalkeeper coach, that he’s done very well, so I’m really pleased for him.

“Justin was meant to be with the squad a couple of months ago but couldn’t play because of a set-back with Covid, but he’s been in and around the squad this week, and also got a game last month, so I’m always delighted for them when they go.

“It’s a great experience for them to go and play against some of the best players of their age group in Europe and further afield, and those experiences will stand them in good stead as they improve and develop here.”

On Friday’s cup visit to Manchester United

“We beat them in pre-season at a tournament they hosted, but it’s going to be a difficult test for us on Friday. I think they’ll have a different team to last time, as they were a youngish side in pre-season.

“Some of the players had moved up to the under-23s and missed the tournament, so I expect they will be back and even some more of their 23s might drop in to play. The under-16s are playing this weekend, but some will be around to play, so it will be a mixed side.

“But whatever side United put out will always be strong and competitive. I expect a different team and a different type of game, being away from home in a cup game, then playing them again next weekend in the league.

“With back-to-back games against United it will be interesting to see how this week differs to next week. But we’re looking forwards to it, and the lads always like playing against teams like United.”